From the moment the anchor emerged dripping from the waters of the St. Lawrence River, the twelfth grade students of Thousand Islands Secondary School (TISS) knew this project would be one of those rare experiences which they would cherish well beyond graduation. As the heavy iron anchor was gently placed on the pavement of Blockhouse Island, the students snapped photographs – only vaguely aware that they were capturing a moment of historic importance. The swift motion of the pressure washer removed glistening zebra muscles from the artefact, and onlookers braved the fresh-water mist for a closer glimpse. Slowly, it dawned upon all involved that this overcast October day was one that would be immortalized in the history of Brockville.
While moving the anchor onto a padded flat bed trailer, spectators acknowledged the positive impact this piece of history would have on their beloved city of Brockville. However, the students did not yet realize the effort they would be putting forth in the days ahead, nor did they yet understand the opportunities with which it would provide them.
[Click photographs to enlarge]
Students have been the largest provider of physical labour on the anchor, working vigorously toward its completion on a daily basis. They have been guided by the teachers involved.
“This is an experience that everyone can benefit from witnessing,” Thousand Islands Secondary School teacher Dave Sheridan shared. “I’m excited that the students get to see this historical artefact being uncovered first hand.”
Sheridan, alongside the students, has been a major contributor and driving force behind the anchor restoration project, putting forth time and effort to recover the piece.
Once years of zebra mussels and rust were scraped from the anchor, the complicated process of applying electro analysis came into play – a process headed up by chemistry teacher Tom Stretton. Stretton’s senior chemistry students participated in the stages which will prevent the accumulation of further rust. Magnesium ribbon was the first step of cathodic protection which was successful in staving off further corrosion. Following this, a 3% solution of tannic acid was applied to the anchor by the students, followed by phosphoric acid with a pH of approximately 2.2-2.5 which is no stronger than lemon juice.
Throughout all procedures in which the students participated, safety always came first.
“Anything that could have gone wrong, we thought about, and covered,” Stretton said. Eyewear, gloves, and aprons were worn throughout. There was no margin for error when it came to the safety of the students and others involved. With a mass of solid metal, it was crucial to be constantly aware of all surroundings.
Perhaps one of the greatest milestones of the student journey was when grade nine student Damien Popkie accidentally unveiled identification on the anchor while cleaning it. The inscription read BALDT -- a word that was unfamiliar to all. With piqued curiosity, other students in the class performed quick Google searches to find that BALDT was the name of the Pennsylvanian company which manufactured the anchor.
Maritime Discovery Center
Upon the completion of its restoration, the anchor will find a new home in the Maritime Discovery Centre -- a soon-to-be neighbour of the Blockhouse Island site from where the anchor was recovered. Even as water poured off the relic, spectators could see the construction of the enormous Fuller building taking place simultaneously behind it.
The concept underlying the construction of the massive MDC is to bring attention to the condition of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the waters in and around Brockville. The Maritime Discovery Centre is a large part of Simon Fuller’s condominium project, a $60 million expense. This centre is meant to perform the duty of educating and entertaining tourists and residents alike about the ecosystem flowing past us each day -- and what lies beneath it: stories of pirates and maritime battles long forgotten. Shipwrecks. And life, both prospering and floundering, will be featured in the Discovery Centre.
The MDC will be a learning facility built in Brockville with the theme of marine heritage most applicable to the Thousand Islands region. Besides having maritime heritage items – such as the anchor -- this facility will use state of the art technology to enhance the learning experience for the visitor.
When the facility’s 3rd floor is completed, the anchor will be hoisted by crane and set in its final resting place. Only then will the roof be installed.
For an item estimated to be a relic from the mid 1950s, this anchor has brought new knowledge, new exploration, and new education to many people today. While this piece of history has been removed from the St. Lawrence, its cable still remains at the 80 foot depth. This depth is approximately 100 feet shallower then the deepest section of the Brockville narrows, provoking the thought that there may be much more to discover, right here in our own back yard. The pitch black of the river bottom is lonely, but the wreckage is plentiful. At such a depth, the current is very strong, corroding the historically enriched elements of the past which lie there, waiting to be discovered and explored.
Laws protect marine heritage from being touched, but nothing protects them from the strong waters which will eventually wear them down to nothing, before the general public has the privilege of seeing them recovered.
This anchor will be presented at the MDC for all to see, along with footage of the students in their journey of uncovering the story behind the anchor.
Future generations to come will be able to witness the anchor’s process of restoration through the display and experiences of kids much like themselves throughout the process. The Save Ontario Shipwrecks organization dedicates themselves to the study and preservation of marine artefacts. Much of this opportunity is a result of this provincial heritage organization. It was through the long application process of the S.O.S. that students at Thousand Islands High School were allowed to complete this project.
However, The Marine Heritage Program will terminate soon, the futures of projects like the anchor restoration look very dim. Without the help of the experts in this group it would not have been possible for the anchor project to flourish the way it did. We can only hope that any possibilities of future recovery restorations have not been thrown overboard.
In the mean time, learning opportunities surrounding the current project continue to expand. History classes will need to research the anchor’s origins and creative writing classes will tell the story. This is only the beginning.
By Hayley Jones and Laura Kelly
Both Laura Kelly and Hayley Jones live in their hometown of Brockville, Ontario. Both are senior students at Thousand Islands Secondary School. Hayley is interested in pursuing a future in photography, while Laura is choosing the field of journalism. Both look forward to attending university next year.
Edtior’s Note: Thousand Islands Life Magazine’s mandate is to build pride in the Thousand Islands region – above, on, beside and below the St. Lawrence River and its Islands. These students are a fine example of how to build pride. Their Anchor Project will provides a link to the rich history of the shipping industry in Canada and the United States and it will go well beyond Brockville when it is featured in the future Maritime Discovery Centre. Congratulations to everyone.